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The government on Friday rejected a court settlement plan for damages suits over side effects caused by the lung cancer drug Iressa.

“We intend to explore an arrangement after the courts point out the problems (in the cases) in their rulings, instead of reaching a settlement when many points of contention remain unaddressed,” the government said in a statement.

The government also said it will study a system to support people experiencing from the drug’s side effects.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a statement: “The settlement plan urged reaching a hasty conclusion. We judged that we could not reach a careful decision, as the time for considering the plan was too short.”

With the government’s rejection Friday, the Osaka and Tokyo district courts are now expected to hand down rulings Feb. 25 and March 23, respectively, giving up on the settlement plan involving the plaintiffs, the state and the Japanese arm of British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC that imported the drug.

The Japanese drugmaker has already rejected the plan, while the plaintiffs had decided to accept it.

Fifteen plaintiffs filed the lawsuits seeking a total of ¥180 million in compensation from the government and Osaka-based AstraZeneca K.K., saying they knew of the dangers of the drug’s side effects but failed to take measures to prevent health damage.

The two district courts on Jan. 7 recommended the settlement plan for people who died or have suffered side effects as a result of taking the drug before Oct. 15, 2002, when a warning regarding the drug was issued.

While the plaintiffs had expressed their intention to accept the settlement plan, AstraZeneca in Japan informed the courts in writing of its rejection Monday.

The government approved Iressa and it was put on the market in July 2002. Japan became the first country to import the drug. Over 800 people have died due to the side effects of the drug, including breathing difficulties, although 8,000 to 9,000 people start taking it every year, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The government, however, announced it will accept a court settlement plan over damages suits filed by hepatitis B patients who are believed to have been infected by the repeated use of needles during mass vaccinations decades ago.

The government has already compiled a basic outline for establishing a fund to offer compensation to all hepatitis B patients and asymptomatic carries, estimated to number over 400,000 nationwide.

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